By Arelis R. Hernandez, Orlando Sentinel –
ORLANDO, Fla. — Mateus Dal Maso will return to Brazil without the 27 snakes he tried to smuggle onto a plane as he was departing Wednesday from Orlando International Airport, federal officials said.
He bought the snakes at the National Reptile Breeders Expo in Daytona Beach, Fla., even though he knew it was illegal to export them back to his home country, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials.
Dal Maso wrapped the serpents in nylon stockings and hid them inside old stereo speakers in his luggage but when the suitcases went through an X-ray, scanners could see the reptiles.
He was stopped just as he tried to board Tam Airlines flight 8111 to Sao Paulo and denied having anything other than electronics inside his baggage, the criminal complaint said.
But when federal agents took him aside into a separate area of the terminal, Dal Maso admitted concealing the snakes, which are worth an estimated $10,000.
Wildlife officials said the snakes included one ball python, seven boa constrictors, and 19 various color morph corn snakes. The serpents never made it aboard the flight, officials said.
The arrest came as a result of a multi-agency law enforcement detail to prevent illegal shipping of reptiles dubbed “Operation Snake Pit” that involved the USFWS, Customs and Border Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Transportation Security Administration.
“Operation Snake Pit focused on inspecting international and domestic shipments of reptiles coming into and being shipped from the (expo),” said FWC Major Paul Ouellette. “It would have been difficult to intercept this shipment without all of the agencies working together the way we did.”
Dal Maso was found guilty of exporting illegal merchandise, served two days in the Orange County Jail and fined $6,000.
If Dal Maso ever returns to the United States, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ordered he must report to a probation officer within 72 hours to serve one year of supervised release.